Diversity is scaring the bejabbers out of America. Watch news programs on television. Listen to call-in stations on radio. And if you’ve got the gumption, read posts on Facebook and pay attention to the stuff that gets forwarded on email. You won’t need a Ph.D. in political science to understand why candidates for president—as well as most other offices—seem to be out-shouting each other about the perils of diversity. It works. Folks are scared of people who are “different.”
The United States is a mosaic of racial and ethnic diversity. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, our nation’s racial composition includes: non-Hispanic white, 62.1 percent; Hispanic or Latino, 17.4 percent; black or African-American, 13.2 percent; Asian, 5.4 percent; two or more races, 2.5 percent; American Indian, 1.2 percent; native Hawaiian or other Pacific islander, 0.2 percent. (Yes, it totals 102 percent.)
Racial diversity cannot be ignored. Presidential candidates are talking about building walls along our national borders. This summer, after Donald Trump threw Jorge Ramos out of his news conference, a Trump supporter followed the Univision anchor out in the hallway to track Trump’s reasoning to its logical conclusion. “Get out of my country. Get out,” a white middle-aged male told Ramos, a U.S. citizen. In the brittle world where we live, “different” often is translated “doesn’t belong.”
Of course, race and ethnicity don’t sum up the totality of diversity. America is growing more diverse philosophically, religiously, economically, sexually and in just about every other category that ends in “ly.” A couple of examples include the speed at which support for same-sex marriage has increased and the rapid rise of the “nones,” or Americans who claim no religious faith.
Diversity shouldn’t frighten Christians who take the Bible seriously. Two reasons stand out. First, God created and protected diversity, and Jesus blessed it. And second, God’s followers thrived in diversity.
God’s creativity and divine imagination account for the world’s diversity. God could’ve created only one race or ethnicity and made everyone to think alike. Instead, God populated the world with a vast palette of people. God also gave them creativity and imagination of their own, so they think and act and dream an infinite myriad of ideas and visions. And God protected them. In the Old Testament, the law prescribes protection for and the prophets decry abuse of the alien, the stranger, the other, the outcast. Jesus went out of his way to proclaim God’s love and care for the different. Remember his conversation with the woman at the well. Think about his parables, such as the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Son.
Throughout history, God’s followers prospered amidst diversity. And even when they suffered as minorities, they grew godward. Recall the Hebrews’ restored faithfulness in Babylonian exile. Consider the early church’s multiplication under Jewish domination and Roman oppression. Recount the stories of Christian martyrs through the centuries up to now, whose blood fueled the church’s advance. Even Baptists, whose history includes English persecution, colonial recrimination and Civil Rights-era fire hoses, guard dogs and jail cells, flourished when diversity determined them to be a minority.
The current American fear of diversity, which afflicts many Baptists, has more to do with fear of lost privilege than of warranted threat due to difference. People who have enjoyed the majority’s benefits—socially, racially, politically, economically and educationally—fear losing that advantage. But those advantages are measured by worldly standards. Increasing diversity offers the possibility for authenticating the faith we profess and expanding God’s kingdom we claim to revere.